The Santa Clara City Council will not reconsider building a high-density, transit hub development slated to be located on Benton Street.
In 2018, the Council granted exclusive negotiating rights (ENA) to Republic Metropolitan for the property located at 500 Benton St. Republic Metropolitan planned to build high-density housing near the City’s train station. After two extensions to that agreement, the ENA expired in August 2020.
At its June 23 meeting, the Council narrowly defeated a motion to consider the item on a future agenda, but the topic cropped up again at Tuesday night’s meeting.
City Manager Deanna Santana maintained her stance that no new information had come to light to justify reconsideration of the ENA.
The land, which is owned jointly by the City and the Valley Transit Authority (VTA), is caught between two state laws that govern the sale and use of such land — the Surplus Land Act and the Economic Opportunity Law. Further, the development has been wildly divisive with many Old Quad residents fervently opposing it while others interested in bringing more density near transit hubs supporting it.
Rob Mezzelli, an attorney for Republic Metropolitan, said the City failed to provide an updated ENA after the Council unanimously approved a third amendment.
“I don’t think the way the city staff has handled this matter is fair or reasonable,” he said.
Still, Santana maintained that the City never agreed to provide a draft ENA until Republic Metropolitan provided details on several specifications it agreed to, including the replacement of an onsite well.
“Any suggestion that staff, or the VTA, would develop an ENA and hand it over to the developer prior to the terms being achieved, would be, frankly, a waste of staff and VTA’s time,” Santana said. “It makes no sense to put an ENA together when the developer is not in agreement with the terms put forth by both public agencies.”
Although the discussion was supposed to be contained to the reconsideration and not the merits of the project — something Mayor Lisa Gillmor tried in vain to uphold — debate ignited again during the public comments.
Council mainstay Deborah Bress supported the reconsideration, saying Santana was “very prejudiced without explanation” against the project.
“There is a whole lot of rotten cheese involved in this situation,” Bress said.
Others, mostly residents from the Old Quad, continued to oppose the development. Many said the area needs a precise plan to develop property, a sentiment echoed by Council Member Kevin Park.
Richard Bonito said the ENA only benefits the developer.
“What does it take to kill an outdated ENA? This would never happen in the private sector,” he said.
The motion to reconsider failed 3-3, with Park and Council Members Suds Jain and Anthony Becker voting “no.” Council Member Karen Hardy was absent. Gillmor called the discussion a “colossal waste of time.”
CVRA Lawsuit Still Raw With Mayor and Cohort
The Council also opted to issue an apology to Santa Clarans for the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) lawsuit. A letter drafted by Becker took aim at the City’s recalcitrance to accept the CVRA ruling and “wasting” nearly $6 million of public money.
“The Santa City Council past and present owes an apology to its minority-majority population for clinging to a system that prevents them from exercising their rights under the Constitution to elect representatives of their choice,” Becker said, reading from his letter.
A majority of the Council agreed with Becker’s sentiment but agreed to form an ad hoc committee made up of Becker and Park to iron out the details of the wording in the letter that will be presented to the public.
Council Member Kathy Watanabe and Gillmor took issue with the letter, saying it painted Santa Clarans as racists. They contend that the lawsuit was righteous since it was defending such a claim.
“I make no apologies for standing up against a lawsuit that calls the residents of Santa Clara racist. Santa Clarans vote for the candidate’s qualifications, not their skin color,” Watanabe said. “Changes have been made. Time will tell if it is best for Santa Clara. It is time to move forward.”
In a show of mental gymnastics, Becker contended with the notion that Santa Clarans aren’t racist, saying the system is what’s racist, not the people who created it. Becker criticized Gillmor for not putting a stop to the lawsuit sooner, saying it was time for her to “fess up” for wasting City money.
Park — the first Asian American elected to the Council — had a different take. He said the voting system was unfair, but not just to minorities. That Santa Clara’s voting system disenfranchised minorities was just a more obvious symptom of a larger problem, he said. He supported an apology, calling it a “show of good faith” since apologies are “lowest common denominator currency.”
“It is not about ethnicity. It is about everyone. We are a city that is inclusive. We feel bad when this is not true,” Park said. “We acknowledge when our actions are seen as the cause. We are not going to try to limit minority voice, and we are going to try to make the statement as proactively and as boldly as we can. An apology does state that.”
The motion to issue an apology and form an ad hoc committee passed with four votes with Gillmor and Watanabe abstaining. Gillmor had previously lambasted Vice Mayor Raj Chahal for abstaining on an item for which he did not have a conflict, telling him he had a duty to those who elected him to weigh in on important issues. She called the motion “a mess.”
Consent Calendar Spending
In a massive consent calendar, with both Council and Stadium Authority items, the Council approved the following spending:
- A three-year extension to the contract with Precision Ice Blast Corp. for services relating to Silicon Valley Power (SVP). The project total is now $650,000
- A three-year extension with a contract with Intelligent Technologies and Services, Inc. for services related to SVP. The project total is now $300,000.
- A four-year extension to the contract with Grid Subject Matter Experts for services for SVP. The contract total is now $300,000.
- A five-year, $2 million contract with Performance Mechanical Inc. for as-needed boilermaker and pipefitter services.
- A five-year contract $1.25 million contract with Unique Scaffolding and Liberty Industrial Group for as-needed scaffolding services.
- A six-year, $1.6 million contract with Presidio Networked Solutions Group for network upgrade and ongoing maintenance and support.
- A $763,000 change order to the Serra Substation construction project. Total project cost is now $7.33 million.
- A $50,000 increase to a contract with Milstone Geotechnical Consulting Services for technical services for the Related Santa Clara development. Total contract amount is now $120,000.
- A $50,000 increase to a contract with Robert E. Van Heuit for consulting services for the Related Santa Clara development. Total contract amount is now $300,000.
- A three-year $189,459 extension to a contract with Bates Group for Fair Labor Standards Act review of employee pay. Total contract now $289,450.
- $340,747 for public safety supplies for Levi’s Stadium.
- $99,250 for the purchase of a mass casualty incident trailer.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, Aug. 17 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1500 Warburton Ave. in Santa Clara.
Members of the public can participate in the City Council meetings on Zoom at https://santaclaraca.zoom.us/j/99706759306; Meeting ID: 997-0675-9306 or call 1(669) 900-6833, via the City’s eComment (available during the meeting) or by email to PublicComment@santaclaraca.gov
I would have accepted the argument that the system was racist rather than the city itself until the moment the council chose to fight the law suit, and then double down and file an appeal. I’m sure they were fully aware of the fact that no city has ever won such a lawsuit in California, so that makes them (the council) intentional racists (as opposed to opportunistic or negligent ones), because they doubled down on it, against all odds, to preserve a bad and outdated system. I don’t think that can be excused by a letter of apology. Such letter only makes them look like YouTubers who make an apology video when they fall from grace, but never change their ways. I would prefer to have the council (and the attorney Doyle) face more of a backlash/punishment for this expensive exercise of racism and privilege.